US

Christmas Day airport misery for thousands as flight cancelations climb by a quarter in 24 hours

The holiday travel nightmare continues for passengers as nearly 868 flights have been cancelled and 520 are delayed on Christmas day after 600 flights were axed yesterday because of crew shortages due to the COVID Omicron surge. 

After a disastrous Christmas Eve that left thousands stranded globally, Christmas day travel appears to be on track to be just as bad if not worse with nearly 2,500 flights cancelled worldwide and thousands more delayed, according to tracking website FlightAware. And more than a third of those cancelations are in the United States.

Short staffing caused by Omicron infections that have hit vaccinated people has led leading airlines like United to cancel 238 flights for Saturday, while Atlanta-based Delta said it has canceled 281 and JetBlue said it had canceled 120. More flight cancellations are expected during the day as airlines scramble to deal with the knock-on effect of the chaos.   

On Friday, there were around 2,400 cancellations and almost 11,000 delays globally, with 689 cancellations and 3,630 delays in and out of the U.S, According to Flightaware.

So far on Christmas Day there have been 868 cancellations and 520 delays, which marks a 24 percent increase in cancelations.  

The site also reported over 600 cancellations for Sunday.

Travelers wade through the south security checkpoint in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Friday

An agent, right, helps a pair of travelers navigate the check-in kiosks at the American Airlines area in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve

An agent, right, helps a pair of travelers navigate the check-in kiosks at the American Airlines area in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve

Travelers embrace before separating at the south security checkpoint in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Friday

Travelers embrace before separating at the south security checkpoint in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Friday

Travelers collect their belongings after passing through the south security checkpoint in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve

Travelers collect their belongings after passing through the south security checkpoint in the terminal of Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve

Travelers walk by the flight information display system at the San Francisco International Airport on Christmas Eve during a chaotic holiday traveling weekend brought on by the Omicron variant

Travelers walk by the flight information display system at the San Francisco International Airport on Christmas Eve during a chaotic holiday traveling weekend brought on by the Omicron variant 

The main culprit for the travel nightmare has been the Omicron variant which led to pilots, flight attendants and other staff to call in sick or having to quarantine after exposure to Covid, forcing Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines and many other carriers to cancel flights during one of the year’s peak travel periods. 

‘The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,’ United said in a statement on Friday.

‘As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,’ the airline said, adding that it was working to rebook passengers.

Similarly, Delta cancelled at least 281 flights Saturday and 173 on Friday, saying it has ‘exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying.’

‘We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans,’ the company said.

The delays have thrown a wrench in many people’s holiday plans, but some people said they were forced to stay home because they are waiting to get their COVID test results back or are too worried about getting home. 

But those willing to travel and faced with delays have been left frustrated and raging at the airlines, with some saying they will now be forced to drive 12 hours to get home in time.

Some said they were left waiting on planes for hours without updates, others said they were left waiting in long lines to check into flights while others said flights were just flat out cancelled with no warning, leaving them stranded for the holidays. 

‘JetBlue two big cancelation in three months, ruined our vacation time, worst service, worst company. 3 hours in line, 2 hour on the phone and those guys don’t have any solution,’ a frustrated passenger tweeted on Christmas morning. 

Some were left waiting for hours on customer service, including one Delta customer who was left on hold for over 11 hours.

‘Update: Only a 690-minute wait to get a response from Delta. We are living in interesting times,’ a woman said about the airline’s customer service. 

Some travelers raged about last minute cancellations.

‘And just like that, JetBlue decided to cancel my Christmas flight hours before my flight!,’ someone tweeted, while a Delta Airlines customer tweeted: ‘So Delta how is canceling my flight waiting for 2 hours for bag information, and downgrade from DeltaOne to another airline good service? #DeltaSucks.’ 

Globally, more than 4,500 flights were cancelled for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to FlightAware, while an additional 2,000 flights were cancelled on Thursday.

The flight tracking website data showed that more than 20 percent of the flights canceled for Christmas Eve involved flights within, into or out of the United States, the Washington Post reported. 

Omicron continues to drive a surge of new COVID cases across the US, with Christmas Eve seeing total infections edge closer to the all-time record with 261,339 new cases, up 10 per cent from Thursday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University published Friday.

And on Friday morning, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the Empire State had once again broke its daily COVID infection record, with 44,000 new cases. That was up from 38,600 the day before, and almost 20,000 higher than cases were on Tuesday, with Hochul blaming Omicron for that surge. 

Meanwhile, confirmed Omicron infections rose 45 per cent in a day, from 2,625 to 3,286. Those represent a tiny fraction of the true total, because the US only sequences a very small proportion of positive PCR tests to identify which strain caused a person’s infection. The CDC estimates that at least 73 per cent of all new COVID infections are being caused by Omicron, with that figure as high as 92 per cent in five states including New York and New Jersey. 

Globally, there has been a surge in cases, with the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures revealing there were 1.69million infections per day in the week up to December 19 — last Sunday — rising 55 per cent compared to the previous week. In the UK, London is being battered hardest by the new variant, with one in 20 infected with the virus and ten of the worst hit postcodes in England located within a three square mile stretch.

When accessing a cancelled flight on United’s website, the following message pops up: ‘Your flight is canceled due to an increase in Covid cases limiting crew availability. We’re sorry for disrupting your holiday plans and for the inconvenience.’ 

The staff shortages may be in part caused by vaccine mandates.

All United Airlines US employees had to be vaccinated by October 25, except for those with medical and religious exemptions and all Delta Air Lines employees must be vaccinated or pay an additional $200 per month for their company-sponsored healthcare plan. Only six out of 13,000 pilots working for United Airlines have been fired as a result of not meeting the mandate deadline, and at least 99% of workers were vaccinated.

But Delta, where 99% of workers are vaccinated, cited potential inclement weather and the impact of the Omicron variant for the cancellations, saying they have ‘exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday.’   

Photos of airports across the country show the chaos at understaffed airports where hundreds of people wait for hours in order to catch their flights for the Christmas holiday.     

Travelers were told they should brace for long waits at airports and lengthy traffic on the roads as an estimated 109 million people are set to travel between December 23rd and January 2nd this year – a 34 percent increase from the same time period in 2020. 

A dramatic 27.7 million more people than in 2020 will travel 50 miles or more this holiday season, with eight percent less travelers than the same point in 2019.

Of those travelers, 6.4 million will be boarding airplanes, more than twice the 2.3 million that did so during the holiday season during the height of COVID in 2020.  In 2019, 7.33 million holiday travelers traveled by airline, compared to 6.7 million in 2018 and 6.5 million in 2017.

Of this year's holiday travelers, 6.4 million will be boarding airplanes, more than twice the 2.3 million that did so during the holiday season during the height of COVID in 2020. In 2019, 7.33 million holiday travelers traveled by airline, compared to 6.7 million in 2018 and 6.5 million in 2017

Of this year’s holiday travelers, 6.4 million will be boarding airplanes, more than twice the 2.3 million that did so during the holiday season during the height of COVID in 2020. In 2019, 7.33 million holiday travelers traveled by airline, compared to 6.7 million in 2018 and 6.5 million in 2017

 Over the past three days, the Transportation Security Administration has screened more than two million passengers each day at airports nationwide, double the number of screenings carried out this time in 2020. 

New York state records 44,000 cases of Covid in a single day and hospitalizations rise: Gov. Hochul cuts isolation time for vaccinated critical care workers with breakthrough infections to five days 

New York shattered its COVID cases record for the third day running, recording an enormous 44,000 new cases on Christmas Eve.

The  numbers were shared by State Governor Kathy Hochul at a Friday morning press conference. She blamed the huge spike on the Omicron variant, estimated to be behind 92% of new infections in the Empire State, and said: ‘This is a very, very contagious variant.’ But Hochul also struck a note of optimism, insisting ‘This isn’t March 2020,’ when New York was inundated with COVID cases and thousands of deaths in weeks. 

On Friday, Hochul also said that essential workers in New York now only have to isolate for five days after they test positive for COVID if they’re vaccinated and have suffered a so-called breakthrough infection. She says she is doing so to try and tackle staffing shortages blamed on current 10 day isolation rules. 

The new rule applies to fully vaccinated workers who are asymptomatic, as well as those who suffered mild symptoms, and have not suffered a fever for at least 72 hours. 

Hochul’s announcement came around 18 hours after her Thursday evening update, which saw 38,835 new COVID diagnoses across the Empire State, a record at the time, and up by 10,000 cases from December 22, when 28,924 infections were recorded.

New York is once again America’s COVID epicenter, although hospitalizations remain far lower than they were at the height of the first wave in Spring 2020. 

Back then, around 26 per cent of all people in New York City who tested positive for COVID were admitted to hospital. Now just 2.1 people per 100,000 end up requiring medical treatment. 

At Los Angeles International Airport, up to 3.5 million travelers are expected to pass through between December 17 and January 3rd. There were 45 million travelers during that period in 2019, but this year’s prediction is higher than the 1.85 million passengers seen at that time in 2020.  

After Sunday, peak travel days are expected between December 26 and January 2nd, with more than 200,000 passengers expected each of those days. Friday, according to LAX officials, was the busiest day the airport saw since 2020.  

‘That trend will continue each Sunday for the next three weeks, with busy days in between,’ LAX tweeted.

After Sunday, peak travel days at LAX are expected again on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, when more than 200,000 passengers are expected during each of the days. 

On Tuesday, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian asked the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shrink quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough COVID-19 infections, citing the impact on the carrier’s workforce. 

Bastian asked that the isolation period be cut to five days from the current 10.

That request was echoed both by Airlines for America, a trade group representing major cargo and passenger carriers, which wrote to the CDC on Thursday, and by JetBlue on Wednesday.

The CDC released updated quarantine guidance for healthcare workers on Thursday, cutting the isolation time to seven days for workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, providing they test negative. 

It has been expected to be a rebound season for holiday travel after the pandemic shut down most of it in 2020. 

As the virus rages at home, President Biden lifted the travel ban on several African countries.

Now all non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi may travel to the U.S. 

The CDC recommend the change because of promising stats out of Africa. 

Data from  from South Africa, where the strain was first reported, looks promising. 

There was a huge and sudden drop in cases, suggesting Omicron may have quickly run its course. But panic over the new strain continues to prevail across much of the world, with Italy and Spain now ordering people to wear masks outdoors. 

Imperial College London on Wednesday found that Omicron is 40 per cent less likely to lead to serious illness than the Delta variant. 

Another study by the University of Edinburgh suggested that the new variant could slash hospitalizations by as much as 65 percent, with a third South African study indicating the potential 80 per cent drop in hospitalizations. 

Both British studies underlined, however, the importance of vaccines with the Imperial study stating the risk of hospitalization for an unvaccinated person was just 10 percent lower for Omicron than with Delta.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, just 72.8 percent of all eligible Americans had received their first COVID dose by Wednesday, and 61.7 percent are fully vaccinated.

And of those who are eligible for a booster shot, just 30 percent have received one.

Daily Covid deaths in the US spike 50% to 3,354 as Omicron cases jump 45% and push COVID infections to near record of 261,339

Omicron continues to drive a surge of new COVID cases across the US, with Christmas Eve seeing total infections edge closer to the all-time record.

Figures from Johns Hopkins University published Friday show there were 261,339 new cases in the last 24 hours, up 10 per cent from 238,378 the day before.

The number of deaths caused by the virus have also skyrocketed to 3,354, a 52 per cent increase from 2,204 fatalities on Thursday. 

And on Friday morning, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the Empire State had once again broke its daily COVID infection record, with 44,000 new cases. That was up from 38,600 the day before, and almost 20,000 higher than cases were on Tuesday, with Hochul blaming Omicron for that surge. 

Meanwhile, confirmed Omicron infections rose 45 per cent in a day, from 2,625 to 3,286. Those represent a tiny fraction of the true total, because the US only sequences a very small proportion of positive PCR tests to identify which strain caused a person’s infection. 

The CDC estimates that at least 73 per cent of all new COVID infections are being caused by Omicron, with that figure as high as 92 per cent in five states including New York and New Jersey.  

Cases of COVID are spiking ahead of the Christmas holiday even in the nation’s sunniest states. Hawaii saw a 805 per cent uptick in new cases and Florida reported a 711% increase in infections in a fortnight.

In the nation’s capital new infections rose 614 per cent. 

The number of deaths caused by the virus have also skyrocketed to 3,354, a 34 per cent increase from Thursday. 

Reports from the UK Health Security Agency on Thursday show that Omicron may be  70 per cent less fatal than the Delta variant or previous strains, but new hospitalizations are still flooding into the nation’s hospitals. There were 69,903 new patients admitted with the virus on Thursday, a 10 per cent increase from the previous day, according to The New York Times

New York continues to have the highest number of new Omicron cases with 442 reported on Thursday, followed by Texas with 394 cases and California, with 358 new cases. 

The United Kingdom smashed its single day diagnosis rate again on Thursday, with 119,789 new infections, and hospitalizations up by 18 per cent in a week. It is a world-leader in sequencing, and has so-far identified close to 75,000 Omicron infections for a population almost five times smaller than the US. 

 The United States logged a seven-day average coronavirus case count of 168,981 on Wednesday, surpassing a summer peak of over 165,000 infections, according to the Washington Post. While worrying, the figure still falls well short of the 249,000 average hit in January 2020. 

That marks the second largest surge in cases since the pandemic began nearly two years ago as the highly contagious Omicron variant has been detected in all 50 states, as well Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.   

Officials now warn that the virus could infect 140 million people between January and March – 60 percent of all Americans, although 90 per cent of those who catch COVID are predicted to have no symptoms. Three studies published in the last day have confirmed the strain is milder than Delta, and may result in up to 80 per cent fewer hospitalizations.

There is, however, some good news on the horizon. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a second anti-viral pill, this time from Merck, called molnupiravir. 

The agency touted the new drug ‘for the treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults with positive results…and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.’

The pill could be 30% effective in treating the infection for high-risk patients, less than previously expected because of the new strain, according to Merck executive Dr. Eliav Barr.

‘The Omicron variant is primarily different from the other types of Covid at the spike protein,’ Barr told CNN. ‘Our drug works in completely different part of the virus. So we’re very optimistic that the drug will continue to be effective against Omicron, and we’re studying that right now.’

 There have been other caveats to the medication. There have been warnings about its effect on pregnant women and their fetuses, which is still unknown.

Some fear that molnupiravir, which causes the virus to mutate and attack itself, could create another strain that proves toxic to people.

‘The fact is that most mutations are probably lethal to the organism, but a couple of them are going to end up being beneficial for the organism, and we’ve seen that with the successive different variants that have come out,’ Defense Health Agency director Dr. Peter Weina told the Daily Caller.




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